On the eve of Fighting Bob Fest, a new coalition sends out a call for the formation of a People’s Legislature.
Homeless, and not by choice
The Politically Homeless
It is becoming more glaringly evident with each passing day that the issues on the minds of most Wisconsin citizens – vanishing manufacturing jobs and economic insecurity, lack of access to health care, educational inequities, a growing gap between rich and poor, threats to our environment, and irresponsible management of state government – are not the issues the current Wisconsin Legislature intends to address.
Instead of doing the people’s business and dealing with these pressing challenges, the Legislature is focused on a divisive social agenda – from legalizing concealed weapons and banning reproductive choice to tinkering with the definition of marriage and fretting over flag desecration.
It also has become painfully obvious that the chief cause of this disconnect between elected state officials and the public they are supposed to serve is another issue the Legislature refuses to address: the political corruption that has taken root at the Capitol and the campaign arms race that spawns this corruption.
To demonstrate how business should be conducted at the Capitol and to send a message to the current Legislature about what issues belong on the public agenda, the time has come to convene a People’s Legislature.
This gathering of ordinary citizens convenes with certain shared values at heart.
We love Wisconsin – every square inch. We love what Wisconsin has been, and we love what our great state has the potential to be. Like so many, we are worried that the current political establishment is leading the state down a path that, if followed for long, will rob Wisconsin of what makes it special.
Wisconsin’s reputation for clean, open, responsible and progressive government has been badly soiled and is in danger of becoming a faded memory. Political leaders beholden to privileged, moneyed elites increasingly ignore the will of the people. Historically high levels of citizen participation in the democratic process are giving way to falling voter turnout and rising civic disillusionment.
Those steering the ship of state have opted against the high road to economic growth and prosperity, choosing instead to travel a low road that degrades our state and ultimately will lead to intensified class divisions and a diminished standard of living for all but a few of the most fortunate members of our society.
Under political leadership bent on making Wisconsin a less tolerant place, our historic commitment to social justice and equal treatment under the law for all citizens is being undermined. In a land which for so long embodied so well our nation’s motto – E Pluribus Unum or, “out of many, one” –those in positions of power actively sow the seeds of hate.
Stewardship of our natural resources – long a sacred obligation in Wisconsin – is increasingly considered optional by our state’s leaders and, worse yet, is treated as the enemy of economic development.
The foundation upon which Wisconsin’s unique identity and progressive character were built – outstanding public elementary and secondary schools and higher education institutions – is being allowed to fall into disrepair by the ruling political parties. Persistent inequalities in educational opportunity are tolerated. The centerpiece of the fabled Wisconsin Idea – that the boundaries of the state universities are the borders of the state itself – is now an empty promise. At a time when the value of a college education is greater than ever its cost is prohibitively expensive for too many. The university is becoming a gated community and an unacceptable number of young people in our state are on the outside looking in.
Hundreds of thousands of people in Wisconsin do not have health insurance, and many more than that live in fear of losing access to basic health care. Employers are routinely saddled with annual increases of 20 percent or more in health insurance premiums. Many ask their employees to accept less coverage and pay more out their pockets for it, while other employers cancel their employees’ insurance coverage altogether. Like the rest of the nation, Wisconsin faces a health care crisis. But the Legislature does nothing to address it.
Because of sequestered and ethically compromised political leadership, the collective wisdom of Wisconsin’s citizenry and the vast potential of our state’s populace are being squandered. We are in grave danger of losing the things that make Wisconsin distinctive. The Wisconsin we know and love is an endangered species.
The time has come for a homegrown political movement that honors Wisconsin’s great traditions and envisions a common destiny as hopeful and enterprising as Wisconsin’s people. And the time has come to dramatize the profound differences between the issues Wisconsin citizens want addressed by state government and the policy agenda of the elected officials who purport to represent them.
September 16, 2004
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The Politically Homeless is a collection of politically interested reformers who feel out of place in both major political parties but still believe politics and government are important.